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Belgium in Brief: 15 Million Possibly Toxic Masks

In the latest development of Belgium’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, it turns out that the free face masks that were distributed by the government last summer are possibly toxic.

A confidential report from Belgium’s Institute for Public Health, Sciensano, showed that the face masks were manufactured in Asia by the Luxembourg-based company Avrox, and may contain nanoparticles of silver and titanium dioxide that when inhaled could damage the respiratory tract.

While yesterday, Sciensano stated that it is too early to draw conclusions, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke has now asked pharmacists to stop using and distributing them “pending further investigation.”

“Although no health risk has been demonstrated, we recommend that anyone who received such a mask at the time for free through the pharmacy should not use it for the time being, as a precaution,” Vandenbroucke said.

The Superior Health Council also said that the use of the fabric masks provided is not recommended unless they are the “only available means of prevention.”

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1. What’s on the agenda for the Consultative Committee tomorrow?

Belgium’s Consultative Committee will meet again on Friday to discuss possible changes to the measures, even though the country’s coronavirus figures do not allow for many relaxations.

During an unexpected press conference earlier this week, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo repeatedly made it clear that no great relaxations of the measures should be expected on Friday. Despite his warnings, however, several topics are expected to be discussed. Read More.

2. No room for relaxations before end of March, expert report warns

Ahead of Belgium’s Consultative Committee on Friday, the scientific experts advising the government do not leave any room for relaxations before the end of March, a new GEMS report shows.

In the report, the experts state that they do not see any possibility of relaxing some measures at the Consultative Committee on Friday, not even the expansion of the social bubbles for outdoor activities. Read more.

3. Belgian government says to stop wearing the free cloth masks it distributed

The Belgian government has told people to stop wearing the cloth masks they distributed for free last summer “as a precaution” following the leak of a confidential report from Sciensano, the Belgian Institute for Public Health, that said they may be toxic.

The report, which the government stressed is only the first results of the first phase of a study, found that the masks contain nanoparticles of silver and titanium dioxide that when inhaled could damage the respiratory tract. Read More.

4. Royal domain in Brussels one step closer to opening to the public

The majority parties in the Brussels Regional parliament want to partially open up the Royal Domain in Laeken – which is maintained with taxpayers’ money – to the public, to accommodate Brussels inhabitants’ growing need for more accessible green space.

In the motion tabled on Tuesday, the parties who brought opening up the 186 hectares domain, which equates to 250 football fields in size, to the forefront once again, said this time there was more urgency due to the pandemic. Read More.

5. Large gatherings ‘big middle finger to those respecting rules’, says Van Ranst

Virologist Marc Van Ranst said the young people who gathered in big groups and partied across several cities on Wednesday night are disrespecting those who are not violating the measures.

“These scenes are a middle finger to everyone who does respect the rules, and this shows that the curfew remains very useful,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws. Read More.

6. Food industry calls on EU for fair treatment of plant-based products

The European plant-based foods association ENSA, together with alternative milk producer Alpro and 92 other food-industry representatives are calling on the European institutions to reverse recent moves they say will harm the producers of plant-based foods.

The issue specifically concerns plant-based drinks, commonly known as soy milk, oat milk and the like. Commonly, but not commercially. Read More.

7. Belgium’s stint of spring weather to end

On Thursday, after a still fairly bright morning, the sky will become cloudy again in the afternoon over the west and centre of the country with a few showers, according to the Royal Meteorological Institute (RMI). Read more.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times